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Should You Expect a Restaurant to Pick a Lobster for You on Request?

I ate lobster at restaurants a few times recently, and I was surprised to get an argument from a waitress at one place when I asked her if the kitchen would pick the lobster for me.

I know how to pick a lobster. I do it at home, and I'd expect to do it at an "in the rough" kind of seafood restaurant in New England. The issue is that it's messy, and if I am eating at a fine dining restaurant, I think it's reasonable for the kitchen to pick the lobster on request. That also assumes there's no lazy man's lobster or other dish I could choose if I didn't want to mess with the actual whole lobster.

Most places do it, no questions asked. At this once place over the summer, the waitress said the kitchen wouldn't do it because they're too busy. I pressed the issue, and she said she'd ask. They ended up picking it for me. I was very pleased.

At an ethnic restaurant recently, I got a lobster curry. While the lobster was served in the shell, the kitchen had cut it up in such a way that it was not a mess to pick and eat. This seemed reasonable to me too.

What do you think?

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  1. I've never had a lobster @ a "fine" dining place so I can't comment on that. The most I might expect from a restaurant is to crack the claws and split the tail if the lobster was large and thick shelled.

    1. I assume you're talking about a place with a lobster tank. I've never heard of having to pick it yourself, only that you can if you'd like. So the little old man in the wheelchair doesn't get lobster unless he gets up off his duff and picks it himself?

      4 Replies
        1. re: escondido123

          I think the OP means pick the meat out of the shell, not pick the lobster out of the tank, but I'm not sure.

          1. re: babette feasts

            Really?! Well I lived in New England and I've never heard of someone having the lobster taken apart for them. I was always happy if I didn't have to reach in and pull a live one out of the tank, aside from that, everyone I know has their own way of eating a lobster and most often didn't want someone else messing with that---just give each of us a nut cracker and a pick.

            1. re: escondido123

              That's my interpretation of both the OP and many of the responses below, but being from the west coast where we don't eat much lobster, I don't know. I was hoping the OP could clarify. The OP says "At an ethnic restaurant recently, I got a lobster curry. While the lobster was served in the shell, the kitchen had cut it up in such a way that it was not a mess to pick and eat." This suggests to me that picking is what you do to the meat after the bug has been cooked.

        2. I'm not the person to give an un-biased opinion...I think part of the lobster experience SHOULD be to pick it yourself, fancy restaurant or not. Actually, I never heard of a restaurant picking it. OK if you order a dish like lobster thermidor, well, it comes prepared with lobster meat, sans shell. You order a lobster dinner, you pick it.
          Just my opinion.
          Motosport, I find splitting the tail and cracking the claws almost a standard in many restaurants. When ordering a lobster, I prefer it whole, not cracked, split, sliced, diced, chopped, or nicked (I savor the juices coming out of the claws, legs, etc). I request this and the waitress will nod and say "no problem". What do I get? A split/cracked lobster.
          Now when the waiter nods and says "no problem", I ask "if it comes cracked or split, I will ask to replace it for another, is that OK?" Again, a confident "don't worry, you'll get it whole". About half the time though, the lobster still arrives cracked, the waiter doesn't even blink, the whole request forgotten. I point it out, he sighs and returns it to the kitchen.

          2 Replies
          1. re: porker

            Hell, I never GET the chance to eat lobster these days, but if I did, I think actually picking out my lobster is FUN!!
            (Of course, I live on the West Coast, where whole lobster is more of a novelty.)

            1. re: aurora50

              Ditto that, Aurora, and I'm in AZ, which isn't near either coast and therefore even more of a novelty. But if I did, I'd want to take it apart myself and wallow in its glory.

          2. I've never personally eaten lobster in a fine dining arena, and I do agree that it might be fun to pick your own, but I don't really see why the kitchen would have a problem just picking you out one. If you can call over a sommallier to pick out a wine, you can certainly have someone pick out your lobster as well.
            Lobster is a pain in the butt to crack in to, and I would expect it to be served in such a way that you could get to the meat without too much work. Again, if this is fine dining, you certainly shouldn't be expected to crack open that big bug yourself.

            1. I haven't dealt with this in more than 25 years, but yes, I should expect staff in a fine dining establishment to pick my lobster upon request.

              Usually, it was not the kitchen, but the captain and waiter who would pick and plate the lobster tableside.

              In 1985, I flew from NY to Ft' Lauderdale on a Saturday night to join my girlfriend and her family for a birthday celebration dinner at a dine restaurant. My plane was late and I arrived at the table about an hour after the stated time. The members of the party had all ordered 3lb lobsters. The captain and waiter had picked the lobsters and the bodies were sitting on a service table adjoining. I was seated placed a drink order and was asked for my order I told the waiter that I would have the already cooked and picked lobster bodies. After all, only the tails and claw meat had been served. All that knuckle and tube meat was still waiting to be eaten. I said that I didn't want to delay the party any longer.
              The captain accomodated me, but was heard muttering under his breath, that there went the lobster salad he'd planned to make for his end of shift dinner!

              As I said this was a long time ago, and true service has been diminishing in fine dining restaurants. Glasses are likely to be refrilled, not changed. You almost never see a server or busperson sweep the table with a crumber mid meal, and servers seem to try to insert themselves into the diner's evening.